Blimey! Brits buck 'gender identity ideology' in schools, strange bedfellows with red states

New guidance for schools in England frowns on even "social transition," much less coed bathrooms, and resembles Idaho law suspended by federal appeals court.

Published: December 26, 2023 11:00pm

The United Kingdom pioneered the legal practice of recognizing a person as the opposite sex without a surgical operation nearly 20 years ago. Its gender-identity clinic for children was created before the fall of the Soviet Union.

But as 2023 draws to a close, the U.K.'s. educational policy for gender-confused children is leaning toward red America.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Department for Education published "non-statutory guidance" for schools in England this month that resembles legislation and school board policies in conservative U.S. states that have quickly provoked litigation.

The alignment is all the more surprising because supporters of Britain's governing Conservative Party, at least on social views, more closely resemble Democrats than Republicans in the U.S.

Addressing schoolchildren by pronouns that correspond with their sex, and requiring them to use restrooms and locker rooms in line with their anatomy, may be the only subject of agreement among Brits and Idahoans other than an affinity for potatoes.

Nearly half of U.S. states joined a brief last week backing The Gem State in a legal challenge to its sex-separation law for schools. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted a federal district judge's order refusing to block SB 1000 in October

The Biden administration and American mainstream medical organizations are backing the law's challengers, illustrating the growing divide between the U.S. and European countries that pioneered but have sharply pulled back on so-called gender affirming care for minors.

Red states have taken notice of the rift, with the Florida Department of Health emphasizing it was following the lead of Sweden, Finland, France and the U.K. when issuing guidance against puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery for kids last year.

The U.K.'s about-face on gender identity in schools follows the collapse of its Tavistock clinic for gender-confused kids, which is scheduled to close next year. 

An independent review found the clinic rushed children into gender-affirming care with little evidence and tended to ignore mental-health problems that could manifest as gender confusion, especially in the newly dominant clientele of adolescent females. A BBC journalist published a well-reviewed book on the clinic's "rise and calamitous fall."

Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan developed the guidance, marked as a draft consultation, in tandem with Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch. It repeatedly refers to the independent review by Hilary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics.

The document is remarkable as an implicit repudiation of American elite opinion on gender identity, especially by treating children as a population with special considerations and younger children as "more vulnerable" to misunderstanding their feelings.

It refuses to even identify children as "transgender" because their sex can't be legally changed and encourages "watchful waiting," or refusing to immediately indulge a child's self-identification.

Keegan and Badenoch only mention religion once as a possible motivating factor in opposing what they call gender identity ideology. "Many people believe this concept is one that reinforces stereotypes and social norms relating to sex," according to the "overarching principles."

The duo warns that even "social transitioning" prior to medical treatments – "changing names, uniforms, or using different facilities to help a child appear more like the opposite sex" – is "not a neutral act." The Cass review made clear "it could have significant psychological effects on a young person."

Supporting a "child's wishes" to transition may not be in the "best interests" of either the individual or "all children" at the school, the document states. "Knowing a child’s sex is critical to schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding duties."

Their parents should be consulted "as a matter of priority" when a child requests transition. "We would expect parental consent to be required in the vast majority of cases," the document says, "other than in the exceptionally rare circumstances where involving parents would constitute a significant risk of harm to the child." 

Schools have "specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex," it warns. "Some forms of social transition will not be compatible with schools’ and colleges’ statutory responsibilities."

The document also warns employees not to go rogue by using new names and pronouns for students before the school reaches a decision, again with parental consent "in the vast majority of cases."

Contrary to the skepticism of American influencers such as University of California San Francisco child psychiatrist Jack Turban, the guidance accepts the validity of the "social contagion" explanation for adolescent transition.

Schools should investigate whether the student has been "influenced by peers or social media" or "feel[s] pressured to identify differently because they simply do not align with stereotypes associated with their sex," the document says. 

It's particularly concerned about the role of sexual orientation in driving children to request transitions, noting the Cass review "heard from young lesbians who felt pressured to identify as transgender males" and vice versa. 

Whatever decision is reached for a given transition request, it will not implicate a child's access to spaces reserved for the opposite sex.

"As a default, all children should use the toilets, showers and changing facilities designated for their biological sex unless it will cause distress for them to do so," and even then, their schools "should seek to find alternative arrangements" such as single-occupant toilets and changing areas that lock from the inside. This is especially important for girls, the document says.

The same principles apply for "[b]oarding and residential accommodation," with schools seeing whether they can accommodate students who don't want to share a room with the same sex with a "suitable separate room."

Schools that segregate the sexes by uniform or hairstyle aren't obligated to make those policies unisex if a student seeks to present as the opposite sex, the guidance says.

Regarding sports, the document emphasizes that schools must phase out a "more relaxed approach" to mixed-sex participation once students get older and "the size, speed and strength of boys and girls begins to diverge significantly."

Schools must segregate the sexes with "no exception" in competition where "physical differences between the sexes threatens the safety of children," particularly when boys are "going through or have been through puberty."

Even when safety isn't a concern, mixed-sex competition can endanger fairness and "equal opportunities to boys and girls," the guidance says.

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